Wise County joined the rest of the country this week in mourning after a crazed gunman killed 20 elementary school students and six teachers Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.
Monday morning school administrators, teachers and parents were forced to face the reality of threats once thought incomprehensible. The Messenger contacted local school superintendents to see how they were addressing the incident on individual campuses, and if they anticipated any policy changes regarding visitors or access to their campuses.
Decatur Police Department stepped up security at local public school campuses this week in light of the Sandy Hook tragedy.
“We had officers at every school this morning,” said Chief Rex Hoskins. “For the rest of the week we’ll have officers there in the morning and again in the afternoon.”
Officers will also drop by periodically during the day to walk through each of the campuses.
“I’ve got kids in elementary school,” Hoskins said. “I don’t want anything to happen to them or to anyone else’s kids.”
With the recent bomb threats at Decatur High School, administrators already had school safety at the forefront of their minds even before Friday’s tragedy. Superintendent Rod Townsend said the district has been reviewing security procedures at every campus.
“We do have a plan in place for every campus for nearly every situation you can think of,” he said. “We are looking at our security across the district. We feel the elementary schools are in pretty good shape.”
He said he met with principals and counselors Monday to talk about the recent bomb threats at the high school. He said more drills are scheduled, adding that the school “will do one pretty quick” but will also alert parents in advance.
Townsend said Monday was pretty much “a normal day,” with few kids talking about the shooting. But teachers and administrators were prepared in case the subject did come up.
“At the elementary schools, if kids brought it up, we’ll talk about it,” he said.
He added that information was being sent home with students on grief counseling and how to talk to your child about situations like a school shooting.
During a Monday school board meeting, Superintendent Monty Chapman suggested that all emergency plans in the Paradise Independent School be evaluated following the tragedy in Connecticut.
The district had a bomb threat earlier this fall that spurred it to update many of its procedural and evacuation plans. The district is now looking at several campus structures to enhance their safety as well.
“We have developed a more detailed evacuation plan. All of the teachers on campus who have CDLs have keys to buses, if we had to evacuate,” Assistant Superintendent Patti Seckman said. “If there is an evacuation, parents will get a text, an email and a call simultaneously that tells parents what is going on and to go to the transportation office for details. It would also tell what campus is evacuating and where the kids are evacuating to.”
Seckman said the messages would also say who is driving. Of course, with so many campuses gathered on a central complex, it’s possible all the students would need to be evacuated at once.
“With us being all together, if we had a severe weather or some other threat, it is perceivable to evacuate the whole system,” Seckman said. “We have already planned where to take all 1,080 students.”
The district has places picked out to house the students temporarily, but they’re not disclosing these places ahead of time for safety reasons.
“We want to be most proactive. We had already had this in the works before this most recent tragedy in Connecticut,” Seckman said. “This just put this all at the forefront.”
Boyd campuses might have the best protection against a potential campus shooting.
“We have a unique situation here in Boyd,” said Boyd ISD superintendent Ted West. “The Boyd Police Department has moved its headquarters into one of our school zones. I can’t think of a better deterrent than that.”
In November, the school board agreed to a lease agreement with the police department to move its headquarters into the district’s old administration offices in the 500 block of Knox Avenue.
“The police are centrally located for our district,” West said. “They are in front of the middle school, a block or two away from the high school and about four blocks from the elementary school.”
In lieu of payment, the police agreed to give more hours to the student resource officer (SRO) program. While many districts have an SRO stationed at the high school or middle school, Boyd’s SRO spends time at all campuses in the district.
Boyd Police Chief Greg Arrington approached the district with the idea, and West said it’s a good move for the district.
“It’s a pro-active approach to keeping our students and faculty and staff safe,” he added.
Bridgeport superintendent Eddie Bland said districts are always needing to work on a plan in case of an emergency situation.
“We have a crisis response plan in place,” Bland said. “We take the safety and security of our students and faculty and staff very seriously.”
They take a lot of precautions but if someone is armed and blasts their way into a school there is little that can be done to stop that person.
“We live in a very different world than the one we grew up in,” said Bland. “Unless we transform all our schools into steel prisons, if somebody really wants in, they will get in.”
Chico Superintendent Mike Jones outlined the security procedures in place in his district.
The schools are designed to funnel visitors through the office, and adults monitor the parking lots at drop-off and pick-up. Visitors must present a drivers license, and they are checked against a sexual predator database before they get a badge.
Cameras are also installed in many of the district’s buildings, Jones said.
And despite all those procedures, Jones said the school board is looking at other ways to enhance security for both students and staff.
“We are looking at security upgrades,” Jones said. “That is one of the items on the board’s priority list, and that was there prior to (Friday’s shooting in Connecticut).”
And while it might be impossible to stop someone who is bent on carrying out such a horrible act, the school can try to plan for whatever situation might arise.
“The worst thing I want to happen is for someone to fall and scrape their knee and go home with a smiley-face Band-Aid,” Jones said.
The school has also been the site of training scenarios for situations similar to that of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting.
This past summer, local law enforcement agencies participated in training drills at Chico Middle School as part of the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT). The scenarios involved a shooter inside the building. Instead of bullets, officers used rubber bullets. The training is designed to teach officers how to quickly respond to an active shooter situation. That story was featured in the June 30 issue of the Wise County Messenger.
Jones said the school practices lock-down drills, but they may perform them more frequently in light of the recent events.
“We will do our best to protect our kids and staff and provide a safe environment,” Jones said, pointing out that schools are still one of the safest places for kids.
Alvord ISD has added entry vestibules at its campuses over the past year, and is in the process of installing security cameras.
Superintendent Bill Branum was not available to comment for this story.
Northwest ISD has several programs and plans in place that are designed for the safety and security of students and staff. They include cameras; ID badges for all employees (including contracted service providers) and students (at the secondary level); visitor check-in software; seven school resource officers and security guards (at the high schools); and a designated emergency response coordinator and district/campus safety teams who consult with local law enforcement and first responders about school safety and who oversee emergency operations plans. Those weather, fire and lock down drills are regularly practiced.
All visitors must use the school’s front entrances when visiting campuses throughout the day. Exterior doors remain closed and locked during normal school hours.
“From a building perspective, we’ve prepared ourselves,” said Dennis McCreary, superintendent for facilities, planning and construction. “We’ve built our buildings as safe as humanly possible. But we are reevaluating some things – some of our locking systems, the safety plan as a whole – to make sure.”
The district has initiated an external audit by a nationally-recognized school safety consultant firm. McCreary added that the bond program that passed in November included a new camera system, which will be installed over the summer.
A news alert sent to parents Monday night read, “this additional review of school safety plans will provide another layer of analysis, in order to continually improve our award-winning school safety program.”
For more information on the procedures, visit www.nisdtx.org/Domain/41.
On Friday night, the district sent parents a list of tips – compiled by its counselors – on how to address the issue with their children.
- explaining the event calmly and at the child’s age level.
- being honest without adding fears.
- helping your child feel safe by pointing out that most people are good and validating that school employees will do everything they can to maintain their safety at school.
- limiting exposure to the media.
- asking the child his/her thoughts and feelings and letting him or her know it’s normal to be upset.
Students were made aware that counselors were available if they needed someone to talk to.